Many people believe all succulents and cacti need to have bright direct sunlight to do well, but this isn’t true.
There are quite a few types of succulent plants that can do very well as house plants in low-light settings.
In this article, we introduce a wide variety of choices in low light succulents and provide basic information on their care. Read on to learn more.
What Is Low Light?
It’s important to understand low light and no light are not the same things.
No plant (even the snake plant aka mother-in-law’s tongue) can live with no light.
A low light setting is a location away from a window indoors or in a lightly shaded setting outdoors.
For example, an indoor succulent plant placed on a dining room table or on a shelf away from a window in an otherwise well-lit room is in a low light setting.
Outdoors, plants receiving dappled sunlight under trees are in low light settings.
In a setting with no light, such as a bathroom with a very small window or no window, it’s necessary to provide light through the use of a grow light.
In this sort of situation, a succulent doing well in a low light setting will typically do well with artificial light.
Even so, you should rotate plants from artificial light to natural light on a regular basis for the best results.
Low Light Succulents At A Glance
Sedum morganianum (Donkey’s Tail, Burro’s Tail)
Sedum morganianum is also known as Burrito, Donkey’s Tail or Burro’s Tail because it grows in an attractive trailing formation producing stems as long as 3’ feet.
Burro’s tail is an excellent choice for a hanging basket or as house plants in a shady spot or a north-facing window.
It also does quite well planted in a window box along the north-facing wall.
Aloe vera (Medicinal Aloe)
Aloe vera is also known as Aloe Barbadensis or medicinal Aloe.
Aloe vera is a very common and popular low light succulent thriving and reproduces readily in a consistent indoor setting or a sheltered outdoor setting in a warm climate.
There are several varieties of Aloe.
Some are solid green while others may be variegated with creamy, horizontal stripes.
Aloe variegata (Partridge Breasted Aloe)
Partridge Breasted Aloe or Aloe Variegata is an example of a variation on the Aloe vera plant.
This is a dwarf Aloe that may bloom with fetching coral-colored flowers late in the wintertime or early in the springtime.
This short, plump Aloe is a good choice as a desk plant.
It does well under the typical fluorescent light provided in an office setting.
Lace Aloe (Aloe aristata)
Aloe aristata is another very small variation on the Aloe plant.
It grows in a very dense rosette formation and has white spots which are slightly raised.
Senecio radicans (String of Bananas)
Senecio radicans is also known as String of Bananas because it grows in long tendrils with small, slightly curved leaves looking like tiny bananas.
This dangling succulent is an excellent choice in a hanging basket or shelf in a low-light setting.
Outdoors, it can do well in a window box, planter or hanging basket kept in bright, dappled shade.
Senecio rowleyanus (String of Pearls)
Senecio rowleyanus is also known as String of Pearls because, like String of Bananas it grows on long tendrils sporting tiny, round leaves resembling green pearls.
This is another dangling succulent which does quite well tumbling over the sides of a hanging basket, window box or high shelf in a shady setting.
Ceropegia woodii (String of Hearts)
Ceropegia woodii is also known as String of Hearts or Rosary Vine. The popular Ceropegia woodii is treated by some as a subspecies of Ceropegia linearis.
This plant is semi-succulent which produces attractive heart-shaped leaves and tiny spherical tubers or buds resembling rosary beads.
Like the other “string type” succulents, this plant is a good choice for a high shelf, window box or hanging basket in a low light setting.
Sansevieria trifasciata (Mother-In-Law’s Tongue)
Sansevieria trifasciata is the classic house plant commonly known as Mother-In-Law’s Tongue or Snake Plant.
The indestructible snake plant comes in several variations, including the bird-nest snake plant and all do quite well in very low light conditions but also direct sunlight.
Various iterations of Sansevieria trifasciata have lance-like dark green leaves either solid colored or variegated with silvery markings and yellow edging.
Depending upon the snake plant variant, leaves maybe a few inches high or as tall as a foot high.
NOTE: With acclimation, the snake plant will also grow in full sun
Haworthia margaritifera (Tulista pumila)
Haworthia margaritifera may also be referred to as Tulista pumila or commonly as Pearl Plant.
The pearl plant from South Africa is a relative of the Aloe vera plant and looks quite similar.
All the Haworthias are low growing plants and many sport lots of pearl-like white bumps creating a contrast to its dark, green leaves.
The plant grows tubular, greenish-white flowers atop a tall flower stalk in the middle of the summer.
Zebra Cactus (Haworthia attenuata)
Zebra Cactus (Haworthia attenuata) is another Haworthia quite similar to Pearl Plant but sports raised, bumpy stripes instead of bumpy spots.
Crassula ovata (Jade Plant)
Crassula ovata is commonly known as the Jade Plant.
There are a number of varieties of the jade plant, and all of them do well in indoor or otherwise protected shady settings.
The plants grow fairly slowly and can take a while to become too large for a pot or container.
If grown outdoors, they can grow to the size of a small tree or bush.
Outdoors, Jade plants may produce lots of very small pink flowers in the springtime.
Indoors, this is unlikely.
Euphorbia tithymaloides (Pedilanthus tithymaloides) Devils Backbone
Euphorbia tithymaloides has many common names including:
- Red Slipper Spurge
- Christmas Candle
- Devils Backbone
- Redbird Flower
- Redbird Cactus
- Slipper Plant
- Jew’s Slipper
- Zigzag Plant
This quite poisonous plant has very striking variegated foliage growing from zigzagging stems.
Outdoors it can grow in direct sunlight and reach 8’ feet tall.
Indoors, growing in indirect light it will get quite large but is controlled through pruning.
Take care when pruning as the white, milky sap is quite irritating.
Euphorbia milii (Crown of Thorns)
Euphorbia milii is also known as the Crown of Thorns plant.
This plant makes a good structural succulent when kept in a low-light setting, but it will not bloom in a low-light setting.
It’s also grown in full sun or strong afternoon sun, where it blooms almost continuously.
This plant, along with all Euphorbias is quite toxic.
Schlumbergera (Claw Cactus)
Schlumbergera (Zygocactus) is an epiphytic jungle cactus coming in a number of variations commonly known as Claw cactus, Crab cactus, Holiday cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, Easter cactus, and Christmas cactus.
These plants are readily available in grocery stores, department stores, and nurseries at the time of year when they typically bloom.
The plants grow in a segmented fashion and produce bright pink, orange or red flowers during their typical growing season.
Rhipsalis baccifera (mistletoe cactus)
Rhipsalis baccifera is also known as mistletoe cactus, which is a very interesting epiphyte producing long, cylindrical stems growing up to 10’ feet.
It also produces remarkable clusters of attractive white flowers.
In the wild, this plant grows very high up in trees.
As a houseplant, it is a good candidate for use in a hanging basket or in a humid setting such as a bathroom.
The Gasteria plant is rather similar to Aloe and Haworthia, but it is a shorter, plumper and more compact version.
Its leaves are deep green with raised, white bumps in the centers of the leaves.
Furthermore, the margins of the plant’s round leaves are also adorned with raised, white, bumpy markings.
These plants are very slow-growing and stay quite small.
They make a nice decoration in small nooks and crannies where they receive bright indirect light.
Look for two varieties: Liliputana and Bicolor.
Gasteria batesiana (Ox Tongue)
Gasteria batesiana is another variegated version of Gasteria.
It is also known as Ox Tongue because the leaves are rather rough-textured.
Rather than being round, they are triangular.
This larger version of Gasteria is a natural, wild variant growing outdoors in very shady spots.
It has very simple needs and sprouts up naturally between rocks and on the edges of cliffs and in other settings which would be quite challenging for most plants.
Gasteraloe (Green Ice)
Gasteraloe is also known as Green Ice.
This plant is a hybrid cross between Aloe vera and Gasteria.
These plants are very attractive, and like most hybrids, they retain the best qualities of both of their parents.
They’re very hardy and do quite well in low light environments.
It’s sometimes hard to find Gasteraloe, but an online search will reveal good results.
These plants ship well and so order with confidence.
Kalanchoe tomentosa (Panda Plant)
Kalanchoe tomentosa is also known as Panda Plant or Pussy’s Ear because its leaves are velvety soft.
Leaves also have pretty markings with deep, reddish-brown tips against a gray-blue background.
This plant has a compact growth habit and does well with consistent, filtered indirect light.
Rotate it in and out of a lower light setting at three-month intervals without harming the plant.
Cotyledon tomentosa (Bear Paw)
Cotyledon tomentosa is also known as Bear Paws because it has lovely, fuzzy leaves.
There are two types of Cotyledon.
One type has a summertime growing period, and the other type has a wintertime growing period.
Both are semi-dormant in the summertime.
These small plants do quite well in containers because they top out at about a foot tall.
Kalanchoe blossfeldiana (Flaming Katie)
Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is also known as Flaming Katie because of its beautiful, bright orange, long-lasting flowers.
This plant does well in a low-light indoor setting after the flowers have bloomed.
After blooming, you should cut back the flowers and move them into a bright light setting or ideally move into a permanent outdoor setting.
Zamioculcas Zamiifolia (Zanzibar Gem)
Zamioculcas Zamiifolia is also known as Zanzibar Gem or simply as ZZ Plant.
This plant is a rhizomatous perennial capable of doing quite well in low-light situations; however, you must remember NOT to water it frequently because these succulents store their water in the rhizomes.
The plant is quite rugged, but it does need good care to flourish.
Healthy plants have leathery, shiny leaves.
The base of the stems may be slightly swollen with stored water.
Beaucarnea recurvata (Elephant’s Foot Plant)
Beaucarnea recurvata is also known as Elephant Foot plant or Ponytail Palm, but it is not a palm.
The ponytail palm plant is a succulent which stores its water in its thick trunk.
The thick swollen trunk looks like an elephant’s foot, hence one of the common names.
The other common name comes from the fact the foliage grows in an attractive ponytail shape.
This plant thrives in full sun, but it also does quite well with other low-light succulents in a partial shade setting.
Agave attenuata (Foxtail Agave)
Agave attenuata is also known as Swan’s Neck, Foxtail Agave or Lion’ s Tail.
This rugged agave has the typical rosette formation of leaves and also blooms quite attractively in the springtime.
This is a large choice for a shady or low-light setting growing as tall as 5’ feet.
Sedum ternatum (stonecrop)
Sedum ternatum is commonly called stonecrop.
It is one of many plants going under the common name of stonecrop because these succulents do quite well even in rocky, gravelly soil with few nutrients.
These small plants thrive in cool, shady settings indoors or out.
Aeonium Kiwi (Kiwi Aeonium)
Aeonium Kiwi is also called Kiwi Aeonium.
This is a very rugged little succulent which does quite well in shady spaces in hot climates.
It is quite drought resistant and grows in compact rosettes with thick spoon-like leaves.
The colorful leaves have a bright red edging, a green background and a yellow spot in the center.
These succulents are monocarpic, meaning they flower only once in their lifetime and die.
Like most succulents, they leave pups behind to take their place.
Agave bracteosa (Squid Agave)
Agave bracteosa is also called Squid Agave because it looks something like a small squid.
It’s a good, compact rock garden or container plant, it does quite well outdoors with eastern or northern exposure.
The Hoya plant goes by the common name the Wax Plant of which Hoya carnosa is the most popular.
The Hoya Hindu Rope Plant features curling foliage providing a very distinct look.
Hoya finlaysonii is a climbing succulent and very attractive when trained to climb a structure in a low light setting.
It will also trail if planted in a hanging basket.
Leaves may be either light or dark green and have an attractive vein-like pattern.
When kept in a humid location with filtered sunlight, the plant may produce fragrant white or burgundy flowers.
Epiphyllum oxypetalum (Orchid Cactus)
Epiphyllum oxypetalum (epiphyllum cactus) is also known as the:
- Orchid cactus
- Dutchman’s Pipe Cactus
Under ideal conditions, this plant may have pretty, fragrant flowers in the evening which wilt at sunrise.
This is a tropical plant needing a consistently warm setting with bright filtered sunlight to thrive.
Asplenium fern (Bird’s Nest Fern)
Asplenium fern is also known as Bird’s Nest Fern because it grows in a tightly gathered cluster on tree trunks or sometimes on buildings.
Although this plant is a fern, it is an epiphytic succulent.
Even so, it will grow in moist, yet well-draining, potting soil.
Alternately, mount it on a branch or plank of wood to hang on your wall and care for it as an epiphyte.
Tips On Growing Low Light Succulents in Shade
Clearly, because succulents come in a wide variety of types of plants, ranging from epiphytes to drought-resistant cactus-like plants to tropical humidity loving plants, the care for shade-loving succulents varies greatly from plant to plant.
Be careful not to take a one-size-fits-all approach.
Instead, evaluate the setting you have and research the plants you have in mind to determine which ones can thrive in your specific conditions.
Succulents will all do well with some bright light for some part of every day.
If light is too strictly restricted, your succulent will become weakened leggy and will not flower.
Six hours daily of filtered sunlight or good artificial light is highly recommended for any succulent.
Because succulents, by definition, hold and store their own water, most are able to do well with infrequent watering.
Like most plants, a deep, thorough occasional watering is preferable to small amounts of water applied frequently.
Remember to always use containers with ample drainage holes.
All succulents require a fast-draining substrate to prevent the roots and stems from standing in water.
This is a recipe for root and stem rot.
Be sure to choose a planting medium intended for orchids when planting an epiphytic succulent.
Choose a cactus mix for all others.
With careful analysis of your own setting and careful choice of plants, it’s possible to create a lush and vibrant shady place or low-light succulent garden of your very own.